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Matt OBerski Eng 325 Moises 8.16.

11 Defining God Is More Than Impossible Much of nature seemed to be an excited repetition, like that of an angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again. The grass seemed signaling to me with all its fingers at once; the crowded stars seemed bent upon being understood. The sun would make me see him if he rose a thousand times. The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation. And I began to see an idea. G.K. Chestertoni Pastors kids are one of two things: either trouble or even more trouble. They grow up under the microscope, every single one of their actions condemned or praised seemingly judged by all. For my whole life, Ive been the child of a pastor. A pastors kid: a PK by all rights. I havent been trouble, a statement that my parents would argue, but I have certainly been judged by all. Ive grown up in the Church and been there every Sunday, whether Ive wanted to be there or not. And usually I wanted to be there. I was in a house where thats what you did on Sunday. Often, my four older brothers and I would wake up to the sounds of a silent living room, where our folks sat drinking their coffee and praying to start the day off right. Some might suppose that, on our way downstairs, we would try our hardest not to step on the little wood panels that creaked the loudest. But no! Were boys, we dont do that! We might even wake up to the smell of cinnamon rolls baking fresh and gooey in the oven: a little healthy something to start the day off right. On those days, we werent even close to quiet. OBerski 1

There was no whispering from bunk bed to bunk bed about how it smells so good or how the youngest gets to go first. No. Never. We would bound out of our beds and shout claims to the cinnamon roll with the most topping as we thudded down the stairs. Around the house, in the van on the way to church, in church, in Sunday school silence was far from any of our middle names. I grew up going to church, so I didnt see that people were doing anything else or that we were missing out on anything. I didnt see that some people dont go to church, because at this age, the only people that I saw were my family. I didnt see that it was actually my view that was just a little bit off of the norm, not everyone elses. And Im glad that I didnt see it. It built a firm foundation that now I am building upon. It is like building on rock instead of building on sand. Like my Dad preached a thousand times, In Matthew seven, even when the rains come, the house will stand firm. ii Im glad that I went to church every Sunday. I liked it. Heck, I still like going to church, even though its nowhere near required of me and my parents are a hundred miles away. Church is still a constant in my life. But its more than that. Its not even that the Church itself is a constant its more about what the Church stands for and why the Church is there in the first place. Its about God. God is the constant in my life. He never fails, and He is the only one that I can always trust.iii Growing up, I never even thought to look at nature, the nature that God created specifically for humans. Mornings would come and too early I would have to crawl from under the nice warm blankets and out into the

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frigid reality of the waiting world, telling the peeping birds to mind their own business and simply let a guy sleep. I was just another human, the blinders on, seeing only the track directly in front of me. I never took notice of the fact that snowflakes and daisies are all unique but all the same. Nonetheless, nature kept trying. Or rather, I kept having opportunities to see Gods fingerprints all around me. But I didnt try. Life was too busy. I looked for God in the earthquakes, and in the strong winds, and in the mighty sounds. But He was not in any of them.iv I was always ready to look for this star-breathing God in a place as big as I knew Him to be.v But God can be whatever shape He chooses. He was in the whisper that came when I least expected it. During my junior year at the University of Michigan, I was a Resident Assistant, which meant that I had a single a room to myself. I had my bed lofted about six feet off the ground and fell out of it on October 28th, 2010 around 7am. I fell down, down, down until thudding to a stop once hitting my head upon my mini fridge, fracturing both orbital bones and my nose. I am only told this entire story through parcels that people have been able to piece together, for the fall knocked me into a coma for the following two and a half weeks. My father, the pastor in whose shadow I was always walking, received the call from University of Michigan Health System: Mr. OBerski? This is UMHS. Do you have a student at the University of Michigan? Yes, we do. We have your son, Matthew, here in the emergency room and we cannot wake him. Now, Dad had the privilege of reiterating the tale to my Mom, a tale of their youngest son who not only couldnt get up, but couldnt

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even open his eyelids. And I wouldnt open them for another two weeks. Everything was put on hold. My Mom had made my Dads favorite meal (meatloaf) and was excited to surprise him with a special evening, but when she got the call, she put the meatloaf into the freezer. Everything stopped. When he got home from church, my parents raced to the hospital. Knowing nothing they could do would help quicken the hundred-mile trip between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, they responded to the call that no parent ever wants. The prognosis seemed hopeful from the initial testing, but when an MRI was done on the fourth day to give a clearer picture, only a murky readout was found. I had bleeding on both sides of my brain. It was called a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and, more specifically, a Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI), meaning that damage had occurred over a more widespread area than in focal brain Although God had provided fantastic and caring doctors, they could not illuminate the darkness surrounding my future. But then, Mom felt me squeeze her hand. I dont remember this at all, because I was still in a coma, but she remembers it and probably always will. Through a simple grasp, God was reminding my parents that, as great as the doctors and nurses that He had given us were, they would never know the future. Amidst all of the uncertainty, my parents chose to place their hope in our certain God. I opened my eyes on the sixteenth day and talked on the seventeenth day. It was no fantastic speech, but it was speech. It wasnt even to my

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parents, the two who had been there every moment my entire time; it wasnt to my brothers, who had flown or driven in order to get to Ann Arbor, most of them arriving the day after my fall. It was to my nurse, Cindy. Up to this point, I had never made a sound, let alone spoken actual words. Cindy: Hi Matt. Im Cindy, youre nurse. Me: Hi Cindy. And at this, Mom looked over, hugely smiling and half disbelieving what she knew her ears could not have just heard. Did he just say Cindy? What about me?! Hi, Mum. Now her smile was even bigger. The boy who had only been awake for hours, who had only just opened his eyes the day before, was coming back. It was a Sunday so my Dad was at church, but she called him up and left a message explaining what had happened, hurriedly passing me the phone to say Hi when he called back. The same followed for each of my brothers. Following the fall, as I have come to call my experience, I was angry with God. Confused and upset at the god who had messed up my plan, the god who was supposed to be so loving and caring always having a good plan for everyone. Its taken me until recently, until even todays ride back to Lansing and book I read on the way, to fully understand that God always has an intention.vii Healing. Redemption. Love. A love that doesnt always feel like love, because sometimes it hurts. Lots. Its not that God caused me to fall. Its not that He wanted me to have to retake my junior year of classes. But it is what He allowed to happen. And He has used and is using it to heal and grow so much more than just my body. Through the fall, God has moved and grown my soul ever-closer to Him.

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To many people (likely to most people), the fall was a horrible tragedy that should never have happened to me. But it did. I fell from my bed and lost so many things. But no, I dont look at the fall as some trauma through which I lost or gained anything. I look at the fall as something beautiful that God chose to allow, because He knew that it was the way to bring me closer to Him. However much it was absent from my plan for my life, it was in His plan for a life that I had freely chosen to give to Him without reservation. I chose to join the journey, the best way to live life, in the spring of 2003. But even then I didnt understand God. My God then was big only by word, was healer only by word, was grace like an ocean and peace like a river only by word.viii And the whole reason that I told my parents that I wanted to be baptized is because I felt like a little kid when I would sit there on Sundays and the communion tray was passed and I didnt reach out to participate. But my friend, Jason, would. He was a year older than me and had been baptized in 2002. At our church, only if you were baptized did you partake of the elements of Christ Eucharist. Ive always been a competitive boy, probably because Ive grown up with four older brothers who have pushed me to be better than they were, so I was jealous seeing Jason take communion like an adult like an old person, a big person, a grown-up. I was baptized in a lake over by my uncles farm, shivering but smiling. Baptism is the outward expression of an inward commitment.ix I chose to be baptized not because it means that youre a believer, but so that

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everyone who saw and heard would know about the fact that I already was a believer. It was a way of ensuring that I had partners on the journey with me, right from early on. Its a way of showing people that I was making the choice to die to myself so that I could live through Christ.x And it was a way of being equal with Jason. I had asked Christ into my heart as my Lord and Savior. I had signed the papers. Like Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love, describes when he was looking into becoming a marine, he didnt want to run as much as they seem to do or do as many pushups as they do, but he knew that when you sign that paper, you sign your life away to them. They own you. The same is true for Christians who have prayed for God to come into their hearts, to be their Lord and Savior. Lord means that He owns us. Being baptized was a way of demonstrating that I have chosen to accept and embrace the gift that God has forever held out to me, to attend the party to which I have always been invited. When our idea for how life should go fails, perspective is a lovely hand to hold.xi Gods is a lovely hand to hold, really. His is the only hand that is always reached out and ready for us to take hold, inviting us to move forward with Him in His journey. Always. Constantly. Id heard it all along in the Church that had seen the entirety of my development, but now I really had a reason to listen. There are few juniors in college who take a year sabbatical from school. But I did. I had to. The fall was during the second month of school and I was in the hospital for seven weeks, missing my midterms and finals and everything in between. And while I was in a coma,

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my muscles had atrophied to the point that my legs were no longer strong enough to support me. I had to re-learn how to walk. Before the fall I had been training for a half-marathon. In the hospital, I was in a wheelchair and using a walker. I re-learned how to walk, how to eat, how to bathe, and, during the time that I couldnt do it independently these things that I could do only months, weeks, days before the nurses or my family helped me. They became my therapists. And food was a really frustrating part of therapy, my dad often becoming the food nazi, a name I coined for him during the fifth week while he me little bites, small drinks chew, swallow then you can talk . All of the commands so that Id avoid aspiration The fall wasnt in my plan at all. But it was in Gods plan. So I took His hand, accepted His invitation, RSVPed for His party all that He did was whisper, and the nightmare was over.xii It took seven weeks of therapy and lots of prayer, but it was over. God was there the entire time that I was going through college, and I was doing a lot of great things like Church and Bible study and Young Life but it took an experience that brought me to the brink of death to truly appreciate life. I believe God openly invites everyone to join the journey with Him, and a journey is what were all on. Our own journey to our own places, unique and extraordinary. And the Church is here to aid in our travel, to help point to the things in the Bible that are the true road signs. The Church is not simply that building that some people go to on Sundays. The Church is the

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people who fill its pews.xiii It is the love that those people are called to live out on a daily basis. We cannot keep God in a church, in a tent, or even in a Bible.xiv The infinite maker of the Heavens will not be contained or defined by anything that we, the finite, can ever create, for the natural has never been able to understand the supernatural. We will never understand God. In attempting to do so, we tend to try to minimize Him, boil Him down, and make Him relatable. Even defining God as indefinable is still an attempt at defining God. Defining God is more than impossible. If we could ever truly understand God, could relate to Him, could have our thoughts be the same as His thoughts we are no longer dealing with an Almighty, Omniscient, and Omnipresent being we are dealing with somebody we made up.xv If God is real, and I believe that He is, then He is so much beyond any of my abilities to even attempt to contain Him. And I would never even want to believe in a God that I could completely understand. If He made the Heavens and the Earth, if He breathed out the stars and breathed life into us, then truly His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways.xvi

One respite along my travels has been to realize that God began the Church to help those who are already believers: for the times when they have been pouring out so much from their cups that they are nearly empty themselves. Pouring out means that people will do and do and do things for people. Theyll listen to people talk, will talk with people, rake their leaves, shovel their driveway, mow their lawn, bring up their newspaper, babysit

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their kids and all of it can drain energy and enthusiasm from a person. But the Church can be a place of refuge, rest, and re-filling, using words of affirmation and truth so that they can continue pouring out without their cups running empty. Too often it happens that peoples cups run dry. People are pouring out and helping their friends or working hard in the name of Christ and they burn out. They run out of steam. Theyre stretched too thin, often because they do not trust in God to refill them to give them the peace and rest from all burdens that only He can guarantee.xviii The Church is also here because it has the privilege of preparing and sending followers of Christ out into the mission field. Jesus told His followers to go into all the nations, telling them about Him, His Father, and His love.xix Ultimately, so much of life is about love. We use the word rather vaguely today, but God never did. He loved and loves everyone. The entire world.xx Meanwhile, were telling people about how much we loved the new movie or that we love ice cream or the v that birds make and that we love making fresh prints in sand or love relaxing in a hammock or love reuniting with friends. We dont differentiate love based on subjects. Yet love certainly spans a spectrum. A spectrum to which we seemingly dont pay attention. But Gods love is not restrictive or exclusive. It is the spectrum itself. While I was growing up, probably from around the ages of ten to eighteen, I was vomiting back the words that I heard, the words that I assumed were correct because they were what I had always heard. But they

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were exactly that: vomit. There was no emotion to the words that I spoke. I had the head knowledge to sound like I knew God, to sound like I had a fantastic relationship with this god who loves and forgives and promises life after life but it was all a faade. When I came to the University of Michigan, I thought I was in for an awakening. And its true to some extent, but much of my change has been through my own choice to pursue higher education and embrace the diversity of the campus. But the fall is what has changed me the most. I have always been a rather thankful person, but now that I have been this close to death, I am more thankful than ever, and the little things of life do not really seem to matter to me. It has helped me to appreciate the life that I am living and to really appreciate the God who is, has always been, and will forever be. My life up till recently was a repetition of words. They connected with my mind, but my mind was not one with my heart. My heart was empty. It was dry. It was thirsty. People arent any use to the Church or to others when they themselves are empty and they are trying to proselytize about how God can fill you up. In the Bible, God says, Come, whoever is thirsty, come, and let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life.xxi Its a choice. As I see it, God does not push Himself onto the world, but allows everyone to make a choice. Only those who wish to take the water of life will take it. I wished. I accepted His gift. It is free, offered and waiting for people to accept the invitation to hold Gods hand and join Him in the journey. Whenever I feel like a depleted desert, God offers to take what is barren and turn it into a

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gushing river.xxii Christians believe that, through Christ, hope is real and tomorrow can be better than today.xxiii I am one of them, and we celebrate the divine in the daily, pursuing lives of love, hope, gratitude, and worship. Like a lighthouse for my path, I have come to appreciate, personally, that the gift, the invitation, and Gods love are things that no one can earn.xxiv Things that no one has to earn. He invites everyone, everywhere into a life of love, hope, gratitude, and worship forevermore. More than just forever, because He invites everyone into a life after death with Him for eternity. A life that is more than life. Its a life never leaving the side of love, because God is love.xxv God manifested His love for us by doing something. Love is a verb, so much more than words or tongue.xxvi The Church was always meant to embody Christs love, this love that is a verb. A love that requires action.xxvii Another reason that God began the Church was to spread His love. And, just as Christ commanded His followers to go, even the Greek word for Church, ekklesia (), was never meant to be merely a gathering of believers. A true ekklesia was not just an assembly. The word church in the New Testament comes from the two words ek, meaning out, and kaleo, meaning call.xxviii I feel that many churches today are not the Church that God originally intended. That, in general, the Church itself is not. It does not call out His love. The Church of today welcomes its members in with the promise of air conditioning, comfortably large seats, and a service that will be over in an hour because it understands that people have real life to get to. But RSVPing for Gods

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party/accepting His invitation is the one true way to live. A life that is more than life that is real and eternal a life that is better than any dream.xxix One of the things that keeps me moving along my path is that the love of God is dynamic. Never does it present the same to whoever is looking for its comfort and peace, and it will never fail. Add to it that God is There is hope in the future because of Christ, because of what God, in His love, did for everyone. A hope because of love. He encourages us not to worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself, and He wants everyone to know that a future is coming, one that He has specifically planned for every person. xxxi He has a plan. Its a plan to prosper and not to harm, a plan to give us the future weve always hoped for and never even thought possible.xxxii Hope. Its one of the buzzwords of optimism. Positive thinking is one of the things that urges people on to tremendous lengths. Sometimes to ridiculous lengths. Whatever the case, God is the only true reason to have hope. He is the God of hope. He has saved us all from every wrongdoing that we have ever done and invites us to live by His side even after death. Similarly, faith, if only defined as blind trust in God, is equally ridiculous as having a positive attitude. Biblical faith is the substance of things hoped for while being confident in what is not seen.xxxiii It was a few months after I was discharged from the hospital that I began to really see. I was outside, barefoot and padding around on a freshly mowed lawn, when I decided to sit down. I dont know why or what prompted

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me, but I did it. I didnt have anything to do but look around. It was almost one of those times where youre wondering how long it will take before youll be dreaming about flying. Almost. What made this time different is that I kept my eyes open. I really looked, seemingly for the first time in a long while. What had before been mere words to me about the fingers of the grass or the golden locks of the dandelion were now reality. This wasnt an accident, I said to myself, stretched out with my legs behind me and feet twiddling in the air. I was basking in the resplendence all around me, taking a deep breath of nature, that magnificent nature, that God created to put a smile on our faces and I smiled. This was God. For a long time, I was holding on to the fact that Im a PK as my life preserver a title as a thing to give me hope, to keep me alive. But the fall truly changed that. It changed me. I went from having head knowledge of God to having heart knowledge of this infinite God who cares for we infinitesimal beings so much that He holds us each in the palm of His hand, close to His heart.xxxiv It used to be that I couldnt see where God was. xxxv I knew the words and the answers and the right things to say. I would daily walk through the quiet, serene, and fantastically peaceful shade; I would walk through the loud, crowded, nosiness of the busy city and never did I see Him. I was never truly looking. Now my eyes are open, and these days, I cant find where Hes not. God, the God of small things, big things, and every in between thing, is a god that I believe exists and lives today. And, while this God is beyond my

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understanding and explanation, He is the God of my heart and hope. This great God has taken me on a journey that I never would have laid out if I was holding the map and guiding the voyage, nevertheless it is a journey that is so much better than anything that I could have imagined. He is writing a story with me, about me, for me. He has already written so much of it. There is pain within a journey, bumps and bruises and TBIs, but there is also laughter, love and always, hope.

In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story, there is a storyteller. G.K. Chestertonxxxvi

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Chesterton, G.K. Otrhodoxy. New York: Penguin Group, 1908. 107. iii iv v vi vii Bell, Robert H. Love Wins. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011. 87-88. viii ix x xi xii xiii xiv xv xvi xvii xviii xix xx xxi xxii xxiii Corinthians 10:13 xxiv xxv xxvi xxvii xxviii xxix xxx xxxi xxxii xxxiii xxxiv xxxv xxxvi Chesterton, G.K. Otrhodoxy. New York: Penguin Group, 1908. 110.